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Market Update

Asia Gains; Nikkei Hits Fresh High

Asian markets gained while Japanese stocks pushed further into uncharted territory Friday as the yen dropped below the 100-level mark against the dollar, boosting earnings outlook of exporters.

The Nikkei finished 2.9% higher at 14,607.54 -- its highest level since January 2008, as the dollar broke past the key 100-yen mark for the first time in more than four years, after data released on Thursday showed U.S. jobless claims declined to its lowest level since 2008.

Among other indexes, China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.6%, Mumbai's Sensex added 0.7% while Australia's S&P/ASX All Ordinaries added 0.2%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.5%, paring earlier losses.

In economic reports, official statistics suggested Japan's current account surplus expanded almost twice in March from February as the trade deficit decreased on account of a depreciating yen.

India's industrial growth, meanwhile, also showed some signs of recovery as government data showed factory output grew at 2.5% during March as against 0.6% recorded in February.

Stocks on the move

Exporters in Tokyo led the field, riding on the yen's fresh weakness. A softer yen boosts the earnings outlook of the exporters, and traders beleived government policies were suggestive of further depreciation of the yen, which bodes well for the country's corporate sector.

Racing ahead, Sharp Corp. settled 6.4% higher, Mazda Motor Corp. accelerated 7.3% while Advantest Corp. bounced over 6%.

Realty firms and metal players supported -- Mitsui Fudosan Co. soared 7.3% while Sumitomo Realty & Development Co. gained over 4%. Among metal firms, JFE Holdings added 3.8% while Kobe Steel was up 3.2%.

On the earnings front, Trend Micro jumped nearly 18% after posting upbeat first quarter results.

In Hong Kong, property developers swung back to gains by session close. China Overseas Land & Investment notched up a percent while Poly Real Estate Group improved 1.1%.

Resources stocks were mixed. Jiangxi Copper erased 0.6% while Angang Steel gained 1.6%, reversing earlier declines. Aluminum Corp. of China jumped nearly 6%.

Among banks, ICBC edged up 0.3%, China Construction Bank added 0.2% and China Merchants Bank climbed 3.4%.

In Mumbai, stocks gathered some confidence after a cautious start with slightly better-than-expected IIP numbers offering support.

Top gainers on the 30-share benchmark index included auto makers, banks and metal firms.

Maruti Suzuki advanced 4.2%, Tata Motors followed closely up 2.9%, ITC and Hindalco Industries tacked on around 2.6% each while Mahindra & Mahindra and HDFC Bank moved up around 2.1% each. 

In Sydney, miners traded slightly higher on the resource-heavy benchmark index, which helped offset losses in the financials segment.

Index leader and top miner BHP Billiton added 0.6% while Rio Tinto picked up 0.4% after Carlyle Group LP reportedly made an initial bid for Rio Tinto's majority stake in Australian copper-gold mine.

Among other top gainers, Seven Group Holdings added 3.1%, QBE Insurance added 3.4% while Wesfarmers added a percent